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Thomas Lohninger (CC-BY-SA 3.0 Thomas Lohninger)


Thomas Lohninger
Managing Director AKVorrat - Arbeitskreis Vorratsdatenspeicherung, net activist

Which framework conditions must be in place, in order for projects like Wikipedia to also be able to grow and flourish in the internet in the future? And how can we be involved in the shaping of these framework conditions? Big questions, the answers to which will only be found by looking far over the horizon of our community in Austria. Important decisions, for example relating to copyright law or net freedom are in the meantime taken at the European level - in order to survive here one needs the right partners. In our case this is Thomas Lohninger - one of the most active and successful net activists in Austria.

Net politics affects us all, it is however not easy to convey this topic and its significance on a broad basis. What is your secret recipe for the mobilization of people around these questions?

The recipe is not to turn politics into secret knowledge, but rather to open up political processes and also to give people the chance to make their own will heard, there where politics affects them in their everyday reality. Every good campaign allows a broad public to participate in it and to take action. A concern is most successful when a lot of people address a campaign topic and autonomously undertake something on its behalf, when one, so to speak, loses control over ones own campaign.
Precisely that happened when we started our citizens campaign against data retention. All at once people we didn’t even know printed out our signature lists and went from door to door with them. In this way we collected 106 607 signatures against data retention. When we organized for net neutrality at the European level we placed our entire campaign platform on an open source platform, which in the end lead to our campaign being available in nine languages because the content was simply translated by volunteers.
There is no simple recipe for successful political campaigns, one must also always touch a nerve with the right topic at the right time. Then however it's a question of trusting the people and of bringing the small group of highly motivated people with profound specialist knowledge of legislative matters together with a broad, autonomous movement of civil society to form a powerful movement. One can win even apparently hopeless battles in this way.

Numerous Wikimedia associations work together at the European level within the framework of the so-called EU Advocacy Group. What contribution can this initiative in your view make for the future of the internet and under which conditions?

Wikimedia is essential for the success of the pending copyright law reform at the EU level. We urgently need a modernization of the legal basis for collaborative work in the net, new digital economies and the simple everyday realities of our digital lives and work.
Wikimedia is the only net political structure that is locally embedded in many European countries and through this it has the unique possibility to also conduct pan-European campaigns. We have seen, both in the EU legislation for data protection and for net neutrality, how, at the council level, a good proposal from the European parliament was watered down and delayed by the member states. To advocate for net political topics directly in Brussels is unfortunately only half the job, we also need strong partners in all 28 member states to apply pressure at the national level, to bring net political topics to the media and to mobilize civil society. Wikimedia is the only net political structure that is sufficiently large and broadly positioned to be at all able to establish this type of pressure. We need Wikimedia for the battle for modern copyright legislation.

What makes Wikimedia a good sparring partner in the battle for open culture in Austria and Europe?

I have observed the team from Wikimedia Austria to be one of the most motivated and competent in the whole open culture area. The open scene in Austria would be much poorer and greyer without you. Your example is the best argument in many political debates addressing the potential of new forms of culture and knowledge production, precisely because everybody knows and uses Wikimedia.

What was your personal highlight in the collaboration to date?

I believe the highlight of our collaboration was the establishment of the Open Data Portal in Austria. The joint implementation of such a forward-looking idea showed us all how one can achieve something unprecedented with relatively few resources and a small team of motivated people in Austria, that also became a part of a larger open data strategy. I believe, particularly because we in Austria are quite far in front in some areas, that we have the possibility and the duty to look over the horizon and develop forward-looking solutions. With Vienna Open I believe we have also created for ourselves an integrative basis for precisely this innovation across all association and "Gretzel" borders.

Many Wikipedia readers are not aware that behind the website is a community of authors, photographers and coders or Wikimedia associations which support them in their work. How would you describe in a few words these people in the community and the collaboration with it?

My message would be: “Trust yourself”. The community is full of competent, enthusiastic people with whom it is great fun to work to achieve great things. Get networked and get involved! I think we should all remember the original Wikipedia motto, especially in our political activities: “Be bold!”